Better for Baby? Premarital Conceptions, Shotgun Marriage, and Child Well-Being among Children Born to Young Mothers

Jessica Su, Cornell University

The retreat from post-conception marriage has contributed to increasing rates of nonmarital birth in recent decades (England, Wu, and Shafer 2012). Concern about single-parent families has motivated marriage promotion policies, yet research has not examined whether post-conception, pre-birth marriages are associated with better child well-being. Drawing on a sample of black and white mothers with premarital conceptions from the NLSY79, our study fills this gap. Using propensity score techniques, we find that post-conception marriages are not associated with children’s behavior problems or math scores, but are associated with higher reading comprehension scores among white children. They are also associated with improved parenting quality among white and black mothers. We find that, among white children, the benefits are strongest for those whose mothers are the least likely to enter into post-conception marriages. Among black children, the benefits are concentrated among those who are the most likely to enter such an arrangement.

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Presented in Session 166: Family Structure, Timing, and Child Well-being